“Who the hell are you and what will you bring to our program?”
That is the essential question schools are trying to answer during the application process. Consisting mostly of an interview and a small number of personal essays, the application process is a weed-out round that forces the applicant to articulate who he is, why he wants to go to business school and what role it will play in his life and beyond the ivy walls. Just like the GMAT, it is a process designed to figure out who gives a shit.
You must therefore dive into the process and bare your soul, or at least the best parts thereof. It will be challenging, cathartic and maddening at times. Here are the questions you are bound to confront:
- What do you want to do with you life? Really, like, what’s your dream? If you could do anything, what would it be?
- Why does getting an MBA help you achieve that goal?
- Why do you want to go to the individual school you’re talking to? Like, what things about that program make it a better fit for you and your dreams?
Dust off the answers you wrote down and start turning them into a cogent, thoughtful, funny, moving and persuasive argument for your candidacy.
Essays: Why they have to be great
First, remember the “competition”: I know, I know—one shouldn’t consider fellow B-school applicants “the competition.” But recall that at Harvard and Stanford, there are about 10 applicants for every seat. And that even well down the list into the admissions process is indeed a competition, which makes all those other applicants … well, you get it.
And these other applicants are good. They’re not directionless stoners who are so bored they decided to apply to business school. They are similarly motivated, ambitious, career-minded people like you. People who made great grades at great schools … or at least good grades at good schools. So suffice to say—the competition for admission is intense.
Second, consider your audience: the adcom members who will be reading your essays. While all these great schools take great care to give each application individual consideration, the sheer number of applicants must make the task overwhelming at some point. It all happens electronically now, but I remember seeing the Tuck admissions officers sitting in the library with stacks (plural) of printed applications, each seven or eight inches high. Assuming there were only 10 applications in each stack, and each application contained 3 essays, that’s 30 essays per stack times 2 stacks, or 60 essays that said officer was reading that day.
So you as an applicant must find a way to stand out among the other smart, motivated people who are applying for admission. To do that, you must move that overwhelmed reader with honesty, emotion, humor or biting clarity in a way she has not been moved by the other 56 essays she’s reading.
Essay Lesson: Financial Semantics—It’s Not About the Money (Yes it is)
The most important thing you have to demonstrate in the business school application and interview process is your ability to talk about money as if it is incidental to your interest in advancing your career via obtaining an MBA.
Rule Number One of talking about money is to pretend that you’re not talking about money even while everyone knows that money is the only thing you’re talking about. It’s just like not talking about sex with someone while they’re deciding if they’re going to sleep with you.
What you do is talk about money in code. It is a requirement of polite adult society, and you must show the admissions committee that you either already know how to do this or that you are ready to learn how.
Admission folk test for this by asking you over and over again—in a hundred different ways—why you want to go to business school. In so doing, they are almost inviting you to blurt out crassly “I HAVE TO MAKE $10MM TO MAKE MY EX-GIRLFRIEND REGRET DUMPING ME!!!!”
At which point your interviewee will make some important notes on your file. So while your answer may clearly be that you want to make a lot of money, you cannot come right out and say so. It’s totally fine that you want to rake in a pile of cash (who doesn’t?). What’s more, your business school totally wants you to make a fortune. After all, having filthy rich alumni brings the school prestige and shiny new buildings.
But they would NEVER come right out and say it. And neither can you. It’s a “wink-wink/nudge-nudge” kind of game that is not logical.
For my more complete guide of how you say one thing but mean something completely different watch the video above.
Author Paul Ollinger is a writer and stand-up comedian who has opened for some of the biggest names in the business. He also has an MBA from Dartmouth’s Tuck School and was one the first 250 employees of Facebook where he served as VP of Sales for the Western United States. When he’s not on the road speaking, doing stand-up and sharing his unique POV on business and life, he lives in Atlanta, GA, with his beautiful wife, two wonderful children and French bulldog, Colonel Tom Parker. This article is excerpted with his permission from his newly published book, You Should Totally Get An MBA: A Comedian’s Guide To Top U.S. Business Schools, now available on Amazon.
‘You Should Totally Get An MBA’ Video Series